Business Continuity - Lessons from our experience of recovering from a Cyclonic Storm

In late 2016, a powerful cyclone, Vardah that hit the south-eastern coast of India, killing up to 10 people and causing significant damage to the infrastructure, plantations, and domestic life.

Healthcare business operations are mission critical. With the magnitude of natural disasters and man-made disruptions increasing each year, healthcare service providers, hospital, and healthcare CIOs, CTOs, technology and operations staff need to work together to develop business continuity plans and recovery processes. These unfortunate events - which can be caused by a security breach, a virus, political events, or a natural disaster - can happen quickly and unexpectedly and lead to significant loss of revenue, productivity and important patient data.  In this white paper, we look at the importance of disaster recovery process and share our learnings in recovering from a major disaster, an unprecedented cyclonic storm, in 2016.

A case study on the success of our recovery effort was shortlisted for the “Most Effective Recovery” award by the Business Continuity Institute amongst hundreds of entries.



Cyclone Vardah and its Impact

As a powerful cyclone, Vardah hit the south-eastern coast of Chennai (the city is one of the top offshore outsourcing destination for various services) in December 2016, claimed over 18 lives, uprooted about 100,000 trees in Chennai and its suburbs, and caused extensive damage to roads, supplies, and power infrastructure. Over 10,000 electric poles were mangled, and 800 transformers damaged. The severe cyclone left its trail of devastation and bringing Chennai and other districts to a standstill for complete 2 days.

Access Healthcare, with over 5000 employees working from 4 delivery centers in Chennai, faced a daunting task of managing the situation facing the business operations. Despite the emergency preparedness plan and business continuity team in charge, Access Healthcare experienced.

Learning from our experience in recovering from a cyclonic storm

1. Preparation is the key to effective recovery

While we all hope that disasters never happen, being well prepared for a potentially disruptive event can reduce the fear, anxiety, and losses that catastrophes could potentially cause. The following are the steps to consider:

A.       Create Awareness: Increase awareness of the potential impact of disruptive events and help people understand their roles in such events by hosting management workshops, training sessions for employees, and creating a comprehensive communication process that will enable people to understand the significance of their roles during a crisis.

B.       Identifying and Mobilizing resources:

Employee safety is the most important goal and it requires careful planning to ensure that all employees are safe and accounted for. It is also highly critical to resume “business-as-usual” without delay. Therefore, the first step is to identify key resources, for each customer process and program, who would lead by example as crisis response team. Access Healthcare ensures that each customer process is adequately staffed up to as much as 50% even during a crisis

C.      Track the news - Be on the watch. Always!

One way to help you plan ahead is to watch the weather forecast. However, the certainty of landfall and the intensity of the cyclone can only be known a few hours before landfall. Therefore, be on the watch, always!

D.       Integrating business continuity through strategic location planning

Business continuity should be integrated into the service delivery design of business processes. Through effective location planning, the workload can be moved to other locations to ensure continuity of operations.

E.      Plan your technology infrastructure

Integration of business continuity in the design of IT infrastructure helps to minimize the downtime during the unforeseen situations. Partnering with multiple telecommunication providers and having multiple layers of redundancy provides choices to switch over to a different network in the event that one of the networks is down.

F.      Business continuity plans – The importance of testing

Testing the business continuity plans are equally important as having them. Testing verifies the effectiveness of the plan, creates awareness among employees, trains the emergency team on their responsibilities, and allows corrections to the plan.

Actions during the disaster

During a crisis or natural disaster, quick responses are required to emerging situations, whether it is augmenting food supplies, providing additional backup resources, or making technology decisions.

  1. Availability of Management Team during the emergency enables better understanding and quicker response to emergency situations.

  2. Coordination across business functions helps to get a real-time assessment of the situation and determine where intervention is required.

  3. Communication and Coordination Plan with backup redundancy is essential to the success of the recovery effort.

Understanding the Impact

Despite all efforts taken to ensure smooth operations, there were still huge setbacks. Chennai is our largest site, the impact was seen in service levels - 2 hours turnaround time temporarily increasing to 24 hours for service delivery transactions.  However, the intervention provided by the command center minimized the impact on the employees and the operations, resulted in

  1. Approximately 3,800 resources impacted

  2. Shrinkage of about 60%

  3. The backlog of 40% of daily volumes of 2 days

  4. Identified critical resources helped in reducing the impact on the business

  5. Support from centers in other cities helped in reducing the impact

  6. Availability of food supplies, power and connectivity enabled employees to exceed daily production targets

About the Author:

Vijay Kumar – Assistant Delivery Manager - Solution Architect – has nine years of Solution design and Revenue Cycle Management experience. His core areas of specialization include client and people management, sales support and developing prospective client solution proposals. He can be reached at

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